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Deep Blue Sea: Does NHL Player Safety keep players safe?

An increase in dangerous plays this season, plus Coyotes arena woes and Olympics updates in today’s news and notes.

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Artemi Panarin #10 of the New York Rangers looks to pass under pressure from Jujhar Khaira #16 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on December 07, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I don’t know about you, but it feels like every game there’s another suspension being handed down from above — regardless of whether or not the consequence was accurately apprehended. After last season’s player safety debacle involving Tom Wilson’s judo flip on Artemi Panarin and the public calls for George Parros’ departure, referees and player safety are under a microscope.

This season has sparked a new focus on cross-checking. It’s a toll handed down from the league, where referees are making more of an effort to crack down. Where it used to be the third or fourth cross-check that would be called, referees are calling the first (or … second) in an effort to discourage cross-checking in the sport. Not every game is called perfectly and what fans can see from above isn’t a reflection of what referees can see on the ice, but there have been enough blatant missed calls to start questioning if the standards are being upheld.

Is that why it feels like some players are taking things into their own hands, vigilante-style, and committing more egregious (and dangerous) penalties? Every night there’s a new suspension for something like knee-on-knee (incidental or not), slew-foots or head contact. Not only does this set a dangerous precedent, but the NHL doesn’t necessarily have the resources available to actively support injured players, active or retired.

The NHL still doesn’t recognize the existence of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease linked to repeated head trauma, such as concussions and whiplash injuries. Aside from invalidating the very real effects of CTE that plague current and active players, by not recognizing CTE as a byproduct of the job, the NHL won’t provide the medical and mental health resources and support needed. This problem is compounded by the NHL’s ‘culture of pain’ and over-use of painkillers, not to mention the league’s still burgeoning ability to proactively treat mental health.

Sure, concussion spotting and protocol have expanded exponentially since Sidney Crosby’s 2011 concussion. Those advancements in head trauma protocol are good, and I don’t want to take away from the fact that they exist. But there’s still so much to be done to keep players safe, on and off the ice, and while the increase in dangerous plays and head hits like the heart-wrenching hit on Chicago Blackhawks forward Jujhar Khaira on Tuesday have lasting effects beyond the game.

This isn’t about taking hitting out of hockey, or an argument about whether or not the hit was ‘okay’ if it was legal. It’s about making sure that NHL Player Safety is able to consistently apprehend dangerous plays so that they can discourage any purposeful incidents, and that the NHL can provide the resources to support the aftereffects of those plays.

And right now, the answer is that neither NHL Player Safety nor the NHL are in a position to do either.

News & Notes

  • Player Q&A: Tomas Hertl [NHLPA]
  • Sharks’ winger gets chance to hit ‘reset button’ after healthy scratch [The Mercury News]
  • Sharks’ Alexei Melnichuk perseveres after family tragedy: ‘What he’s got on his plate, we’ll never understand’ [The Athletic]

Blood in the Water

  • Blackhawks F Khaira released from hospital after Trouba hit [Associated Press]
  • NHL Fines Hurricanes’ Cole $5,000 for kneeing [The Hockey News]
  • Glendale reportedly threatens to lock Coyotes out of arena due to unpaid bills [NBC Sports]
  • A trade could be coming to address Dallas Stars’ crowded crease [The Hockey News]
  • Beijing Olympics top agenda at NHL board of governors’ meeting in Florida [Global News]
  • Guentzel week to week for Penguins with upper-body injury [NHL]
  • Pesce, DeAngelo out of COVID-19 protocol [NHL]
  • From the Archives: The first NHL All-Star Game [The Hockey News]

Scores & Recaps

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On the Schedule